Managing our training expectations to avoid overuse injury

October 29th, 2023 by Jeannie Di Bon


Pain is a huge subject.  It can take many forms.  The pain I am referring to here is what I call “January over exertion” pain.  Although it can happen any time of the year, I just see more of it in January in my clinic.

I think it happens because we tend to set goals and resolutions in January – often to get fit or lose weight. This is a fantastic goal, but I think sometimes in our enthusiasm to launch ourselves in this goal, we can go a little crazy and we forget where we’ve been.

What do I mean by that?  If I asked you to crunch up your hand for a day, a week, a month, a year.   How would that feel when you uncurled your hand?  Even after a day, your hand is going to feel sore, tight, restricted.  If we did that for a year imagine how painful that hand is going to feel when asked to open.  I would guess it is going to be pretty sore for most of us because the connective tissue in your hand has got used to being in a curled position.  When you ask the tissue, fascia and muscle to move again, it hurts.  It has become set in that position and it now lacks the fluidity that allows for ease of movement.  If you have led a sedentary life up until 1st January when you decide to follow one of these 21 day or 8 week plans to get really fit in a short space of time, you have to take into account how you have been using your body up until that point.  If you’ve been sitting at a desk for a year, (maybe your career involves sitting at a desk for long periods of the day or driving a great deal), your body’s connective tissue is going to be of a similar quality to the curled up hand.  Why? Because we need to move to keep the tissue in our body healthy.

I’m suggesting that if we heed a little caution before we launch into these ‘get fit’ programmes, we are not going to ‘shock’ our connective tissue or our muscles.  Be gradual and take small incremental steps to health. The tissue can go into a state of shock where it gets inflamed, sore and restrictive.  I also think we need to be able to recognise in our own bodies that there are two types of pain when exercising: there is the pain of ‘muscles-working’ and the ‘ouch’ pain.  The ‘muscles working healthily’ pain is good, but when you get that ‘ouch’ pain, the one that can make you catch your breath, you just know instinctively that you should not be doing what you are doing.  Never push through the ouch pain. Pain is after all normal – it is there for a reason. It is your body’s internal warning system. Listen to it.  If you don’t and push through the pain, your brain will make sure you do listen.  Your brain will start to send pain signals out to the nervous system, and the next day you could wake up in discomfort and pain.

Don’t get that January ‘I’ve done too much’ feeling (or any time of the year).  That feeling that puts you off ever trying again.  If you injure yourself, it will stop the momentum and the dream of getting fit or losing weight will disappear.  Before you know it, another year has gone past and we are no healthier than before.  Don’t let your enthusiasm to start your goal make you be too aggressive too soon. The amazing thing about connective tissue is that if you look after it, it gets more resilient, it gets stronger – which means you get to do more.  If you invest in the small steps, you will allow your tissue to rediscover its elastic quality naturally – and once you have that, movement becomes effortless.   It’s well worth the wait.

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